I Forgot to “Save the Cat”
After getting comments back on my work-in-progress from a critique partner, it was clear that she hated my main character to the core. Of course, I defended my reasons as to why I had given her a Scrooge personality. For one, she is actually the antagonist in the first book so I had to stay true to her character; and two, I thought I had managed a deep character arc.
Then I received comments from a second critique partner. She didn’t show such disdain, but still she’d marked certain places where the character made her feel uncomfortable and where she’d thought she’d gone too far … pretty much saying the character was mean.
I had spent a year with this character (on just this book) and it was hard to think about making drastic changes. But I had no choice but to really pay attention now. So the first thing I did was just add an extra clear “remorse scene,” one where the MC poured her heart out saying how sorry she was for all her wrong-doings.
I was satisfied with that for a little while, but my nagging brain wouldn’t let it be. I knew it wasn’t enough. *Sigh* The character was the heroine, not the antagonist anymore, and even though she was feisty, tough, and determined, I also had to make her likable. So I went through the novel, softening her up where needed and only having her feistiness appear as reactions to situations.
But I still had this feeling that something was missing. Finally, during the rewrite, a writing concept I had forgotten all about popped into my mind: Save the Cat. If you are a writer, you have probably heard the term. It is a concept and the name of screenwriter’s how-to book by Blake Snyder http://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009
Here is the writing rule from the book Save the Cat: “The hero has to do something when we meet him so that we like him and want him to win. A screenwriter must be mindful of getting the audience ‘in sync’ with the plight of the hero from the very start”
Even though this information is in a screenwriter’s book, I think it applies to novels too. It makes sense and it certainly applied to my story. Even though I was fixing the character in later chapters, I needed that initial scene so that the readers would sympathize with her immediately. It didn’t take me long to find the obvious spot for this in my first chapter. (A shout out to my honest and tough critique partners!)
I wrote down the three little words and posted it to my bulletin board with my other two important writing reminders: “Emotion, Thought, Decision” and “A scene is never about what a scene is about.” It will sure save a lot of grief and time if I remember to “Save the Cat” before I start writing my next rough draft.
Love and Laughter,